The climate in Central Florida is ideal for a diverse selection of beautiful and hardy vegetation, some of which can remain lush and beautiful throughout the winter with the proper care. This gives those with a love of landscaping an excellent opportunity to create a stunning garden that appeals to their unique taste.
Both cats and dogs can enjoy the wonderful sights, smells, and sounds of nature and many gardeners enjoy working in their gardens with their fur kids at their sides. We want our yards to be a safe haven for our treasured pets, and one way to ensure that is to only plant flora that is pet-safe, such as the nine listed below, and to avoid any plants that could have a toxic effect on our four-legged family members.
Camellia Plants (Camella genus)
The Camellia genus of plants encompasses somewhere between 100 and 300 described species of pet-friendly flowering plants. The leaves of the species Camellia sinensis are used to create tea, making it probably the best known of the Camellia species around the world. The two species most commonly seen gracing the landscape in Florida, however, are Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua, and their many hybrids. The large, colorful blooms of these stately evergreen plants stand out strikingly against their glossy, green leaves, and they tend to be rather hardy if planted in well-drained, acidic soil.
Magnolia Trees (Magnolia genus)
There are over two hundred species that make up the Magnolia genus, a type of flowering tree that is believed to predate bees. Instead of attracting bees with nectar, the flowers of these stately trees produce a sticky sap that encourages beetles to visit, taking pollen with them when they leave. The most common variety of Magnolias seen in Florida is the Southern Magnolia, a large tree with glossy leaves and white blossoms, but several other varieties grow here as well including the Sweetbay Magnolia, with silvery undersides to the leaves that give it a frosted appearance, and the Saucer Magnolia, with flowers that are deeply shaded with pinks and purples.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis/Salvia Rosmarinus)
The scientific name for Rosemary was listed as Rosmarinus officinalis until 2017 when it was officially changed to Salvia Rosmarinus, although the two names are often used synonymously. Creeping rosemary is still usually listed as Rosmarinus Officinalis Prostratus. Both the standing and creeping varieties of Rosemary are slightly repellent to insects, and they make lovely and durable additions to your outdoor landscaping.
Both forms of the Rosemary plant are generally non-toxic to both cats and dogs— and can even provide health benefits when consumed in moderate amounts. It is important to note, however, that in extremely large quantities, the oils from the Rosemary plant can lead to gastrointestinal distress, kidney damage, and seizures, in either our pets or ourselves. For this reason, Rosemary essential oils, which are very concentrated, should be avoided as a treatment for your pet.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia genus)
The fifty or so trees and shrubs that make up the Lagerstroemia genus are collectively referred to as either Crape Myrtle or Crepe Myrtle. This deciduous plant sheds its bark throughout the year, giving the woody parts an unusual mottled appearance, which is more apparent when the Myrtle loses its leaves in the fall. In the spring and summer, the stems are adorned with thick, glossy leaves and large clusters of purple, red, or white blossoms. Not only are these plants beautiful enough to be ornamental, but certain varieties of this plant are also large enough to serve as effective shrub borders and screens.
It is important to pay attention to the name of the plant you are introducing into your garden. While Crape Myrtle is considered non-toxic for both cats and dogs, the similarly named Creeping Myrtle is decidedly unsafe for your pet to nosh on, possibly leading to tremors, paralysis, and even death.
Banana Plant (Musa genus)
If you need a sizeable pet-friendly plant for your landscaping needs, you may want to take a gander at the banana plant. Although the 70 species included in this genus are as tall as many trees, the “trunk” of the plant is actually made up of enormous leaf stalks rather than woody stems. Several varieties grow exceedingly well in the Brevard County area. Some of the recommended species for this area include the Dwarf Cavendish (Musa Acuminata), an award-winning variety, the Pink Velvet banana (Musa velutina), a species that produces fruit with pink skins instead of yellow, and the Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), which can even survive sub-zero temperatures.
Alumroot (Heuchera genus)
There are several varieties of plants in the Heuchera genus that will thrive in Florida’s climate, all of which are non-toxic to pets. Most Heuchera plants are commonly referred to as Alumroot plants, with one particular species, Heuchera sanguinea, frequently referred to as coral bells. These attractive plants have both flowers and leaves with a wide range of colors and they tend to prefer well-aerated soil with good drainage. Gardeners in Brevard County will want to search for Heuchera species that can tolerate high heat and humidity, such as the Heuchera villosa and Heuchera americana.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
The delightful appearance and scent of the Pineapple Sage plant (Salvia elegans) attract both bees and hummingbirds to harvest from them and spread their pollen. Not only does this plant serve as an attractant for bees and hummingbirds, the leaves and flowers are also quite tasty in teas, cocktails, and salads. Pineapple Sage is non-toxic for our pets, but like any vegetation, a large enough dose could cause gastrointestinal troubles. In Florida, Pineapple Sage is more likely to survive through the winter and become a subshrub the further south you go.
Jasmine (Jasminium genus)
True jasmine plants, scientifically noted as those in the genus Jasminium, are an excellent addition to pet-safe gardens! The flowers that adorn these shrubs and vines have a sweet, delicate aroma, and they can add beauty to any garden. While most Jasmine plants are happy in either sun or shade, they tend to produce more flowers in sunnier locations.
It is important, however, to note the scientific name when choosing a Jasmine plant for their pet-safe garden, as some plants, such as the toxic Gelsemium sempervirens, are also sometimes referred to as Jasmine plants. Pets who are overly enthusiastic in their exploration of the Jasmine in your garden may end up with sticky sap on their coats, which should be wiped away as soon as possible to prevent any staining on either your dog’s coat or on your floors or furniture.
Tickseed (Coreopsis genus)
Florida’s official state wildflower, known by the unassuming name of tickseed, is a beautiful way to add a splash of color to your pet-safe garden. Sow your Coreopsis seeds anytime between October and January, and you will be rewarded with bright, colorful flowers in the spring and summer months that are tolerant of drought. Butterflies are often drawn to the blooms of the Tickweed plant, and the plant can thrive in either garden beds or container planters. These flowers are not long-lived perennials, but they frequently reseed themselves so you may see them pop up in the same place multiple growing seasons in a row.
Remember that although these plants do not contain toxic chemicals, eating too much of any type of vegetation can cause gastrointestinal distress such as vomiting and diarrhea, so you will want to keep an eye on your pets when they accompany you outside. Along with choosing pet-safe vegetation, gardeners who are also pet-parents will want to be very selective with their choices in fertilizer and pesticides as well as many of these chemicals can be dangerous to our pets.
Many gardeners in this area are also starting to put natural additives to their soil, which may be inadvertently hazardous for their pets, such as cocoa bean hulls. Be thoughtful when planning your outdoor garden, and you will be able to enjoy many safe and enjoyable hours enjoying the beautiful outdoors with your furry companion.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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